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Posted on: Tuesday, 11 August 2009 by Rajiv Popat

Let's Empower Teams To Have Fun.

During our early days at Multiplitaxion Inc some of us got a little excited about our work-culture and thought of taking it to the next level by introducing a little bit of a 'Google effect' to our very own work environment.

We tried to strive for an independent 'budget' that could be allocated to each project manger to use as he sees fit. Like all beautiful ideas, the concept was simple, pure and clean at it's very core. Every month, team leaders would get a certain budget which they could use to boost the morale of their team in whatever way they see fit.

Ways in which you could use it could include:

  1. Buying gifts for top performers and genuine rock-star builders.
  2. Organizing project parties.
  3. Buying a X-Box for the team so that they could kick some alien-ass if they were tired of coding.

I could probably go on with that list forever but I am hoping; dear reader; that you get the general idea.

Assuming that Multiplitaxion Inc, was made up multiple Multiplitaxion Inc's that happened to be successful, we thought we aught to give some empowerment to the teams and see how they end up finding innovative ways of maximizing fun with a limited budget. This was an idea that would let us do just that.

The idea would also allow us to see how teams of genuine builders like to have fun; instead of taking them to a party and then 'hoping' that they enjoyed themselves when the dinner was over.

Lets Shit-Can The Shitty Empowerment Idea.

So a bunch of young and budding managers; me included; conceived the whole idea of this independent; 'fun-budget'. Three weeks later; we were sorry we had anything to do with the idea.

We were rotting in meeting hell and attending one meeting after another where we were answering what the basic idea of this 'fun-budget' was; what the scope of the budget was; what were the kind of expenses it was supposed to cover and what were the kind of expenses it was not supposed to cover.

After three months of conversations; the idea was finally approved.

Here are the specifics of the approval --- As managers each one of us were now allocated with three-dollars-per-team-member-per-month with which we were free to increase the team morale and make the environment (and the world) a better place to live in.

If you still did not get the ironic-humor in this; dear reader; allow me to explain. What this effectively meant was that if you had a team of five developers you had a full fifteen dollars a month to treat them, give them iPods, T-Shirts, organize project parities for them or even get your team a common X-Box.

None of us talked about the 'budget' after that day.

The budget that was allocated to us was never used and we decided to shit-can the idea.

Fun Is Serious Stuff --- And It Is Not Cheap Either.

The awesome part about being in a kickass team is that you do not need a lot of organizational funding to build great relationships with team members. Leave a kickass team of genuine builders and story tellers alone and they will attract other builders and story tellers.

Get enough insane trouble makers or rule breakers in your team and they will find out ways to have fun --- with or without the organization's involvement.

The interesting thing about hiring intelligent people is that even if they are not very articulate and expressive about what they see, observe and realize most of them understand the organization at a level that is much deeper than their managers even think they understand. So when the once hyped up morale budget was shit-canned by us; no-one in the team talked about it.

Everyone understood.

We just decided to forget it almost like failed childhood ambition.

Even though we lacked words to explain what had gone wrong with the overall idea; everyone in the  team; including the junior most engineer who knew about the idea; understood exactly what had gone wrong with the idea.

What this incident really did was teach me the level of importance most organizations out there give to the idea of 'fun' in the work environment. Some of the best organizations out there might spend hours talking about the idea of creating 'fun-filled' environments but talk about expenses associated with 'fun' and chances are that you might hear the sound of crickets chirping.

Fun Is Not Very Expensive Either - The Nine Ten Rule.

"So Pops; are you by any chance suggesting that we spend millions creating a fun work environment" - you frown.

What I really learnt from the whole 'fun-budget-episode' at Multiplitaxion Inc, was that there is a price associated with creating remarkable fun filled environments. It does not come cheap.

Having said that is it not the Hollywood-Dream that most organizations discard as unachievable.

To prove my point; dear reader; allow me to propose the Nine-Ten-Rule.

If you own an organization; or are responsible for budgeting; might I suggest that for every ten employees that you need:

  1. Don't hire the tenth employee; just hire nine.
  2. Take the average salary of the nine employees; consider it the salary of the tenth employee and add that to your overall 'fun' budget.
  3. Allow the team of nine to decide what they want to do with this budget.

It's not exactly the programmers bill of rights but it's a good start.

Sometimes; Nine Is Much Better Then Ten.

Happy builders; build more and if you have spent enough time and energy at hiring the right people for the right job; chances are that with the fun element thrown in; your team of nine; will be much more productive than a team of ten mediocre programmers.

I don't know about you; dear reader; but I would rather have nine really happy tribe members over ten unsatisfied grumbling disconnected average employees.

At Multiplitaxion Inc; we were a closely knit team; having fun; meeting on weekends; going out together; but the passionate idea of adding fun to the overall 'organizational' environment was just not there.

With three-dollars-per-employee-per-month; we had seen; first hand; how seriously Multiplitaxion Inc; took the idea of 'fun' --- and having seen that first hand --- when it came to having fun at an 'organizational' level --- we hibernated.

The soul of this entire post; dear reader; if squeezed in a couple of lines; would come to this --- Two roads diverged in the yellow woods; and given the choice between a mediocre work environment of ten average employees and a seriously kickass fun filled environment of nine tribe members; Multiplitaxion Inc, walked the easy-safe and boring first path.

Which path has your organization taken?

Do you think your organization is 'man enough' to adapt the nine-ten-rule?

How seriously; does your organization take the idea of 'fun'; dear reader?

Discuss.

Note: This article is a part of a Work In Progress Book. To Read connected articles read the Builders At Work category of this blog.